The Chart

And have I not tallied the whale, Ahab would mutter to himself, as after poring over his charts till long after midnight he would throw himself back in reveries—tallied him, and shall he escape? His broad fins are bored, and scalloped out like a lost sheep’s ear! And here, his mad mind would run on in a breathless race; till a weariness and faintness of pondering came over him; and in the open air of the deck he would seek to recover his strength. Ah, God! what trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.

—The Chart

It was the Nantucket whaling fleet that first charted the migration patterns of the world’s Sperm whales; unfortunately for their industrial success and perhaps live-saving for the Sperm whale species as a whole, the individual findings of each ship were never collated as such in the time before the industry’s collapse. Each ship kept a detailed log of the precise (or near precise) longitude and latitude of every encounter with Sperm whales, along with the date, so as to approximate when hunting in these or those waters would be most bountiful. When whaling ships met at sea, they might exchange some information, but seeing as how the ships were competing for this resource, most information was kept private (see The Gam). Thus, each ship carried with her a percentage of a map that could be easily stitched together to reveal migration routes and even population estimates, but this work was rarely done in the 19th century. The bizarre relationship between ecological interest in, and industrial exploitation of natural resources like the Sperm whale fishery holds grand implications for the dawn of American industrial and technological dominance, both economic and cultural, as the 20th century approached.

The Chart, as a card, offered us a terrific opportunity to reinforce the metaphoric ‘days’ of the Sea deck. A ship at sea is nearly always moving, and each turn of a Sea card is meant to represent the next occurrence at sea, necessarily a time and distance apart from the last. Ahab plots the course of the Pequod, and so the player who draws The Chart may pilot the ship for the next few days, to the weal or woe of their fellow players.

Original Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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